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Darrell Huckaby: Debates give revealing glimpses of presidential candidates

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

I intended to sit out Wednesday's debate, but I am just too much of a political junkie. I had to watch. I'm glad I did.

Face to face debates have always been a big part of politics. The great Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 were over a Senate seat and not the presidency, but through the magic of newspapers, those debates made Abraham Lincoln a household word across the United States. It was a bad word in the South because of Lincoln's remarks over slavery. Douglas won the battle -- and the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate that the "Little Giant" was seeking, but Lincoln would win the presidency two years later. It is said that elections have consequences. So, too, do debates.

The first televised presidential debate was in 1960 when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy squared off. That debate probably won the election for Kennedy. He hired coaches and wore make-up and was well-versed in how the television cameras would operate. Nixon, apparently, just showed up. While Nixon was speaking, Kennedy looked intently at his rival and made sure that his facial expressions were positive and appealing. When JFK was speaking, Tricky Dick seemed bored and disinterested. He had dark shadows under his eyes and beads of sweat on his forehead from the bright television lights. The contrast in looks and style did no favors for Nixon and he lost by a razor thin margin.

Apparently the dead people who voted in Chicago preferred Kennedy's performance.

Some presidential debates have provided sound bites that continue to live on in popular culture. Who will ever forget Lloyd Benson's remark to Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate? "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Ronald Reagan won the hearts of a lot of Americans during his one debate with Jimmy Carter with a simple off the cuff remark, "There you go again," and he won a lot of votes with the simple question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

While running for a second term, at the age of 73, Reagan remarked, "I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."

See? The debates are great entertainment. But they are so much more than that. They also give us an opportunity to see the candidates for the highest office in the land and the leader of the free world side by side. We can compare and contrast their ideas for ourselves. I am not saying that we can tell everything we need to know about a candidate from a 90-minute television appearance, but seeing the candidates think on their feet and express their ideas and beliefs and concerns can certainly help us take the measure of the man.

If debates were scored like prize fights, Mitt Romney won last Wednesday's debate by a knock out. If the debate had actually been a prize fight the referee would have stopped it and awarded Romney a TKO in the third round.

Let me tell you how bad it was. Syndicated political cartoonist Mike Luckovich, who never met a liberal he didn't like, or a conservative he didn't demonize, drew a cartoon showing two empty podiums with a sign over Obama's that read "Barrack Obama slept here."

Indeed.

Romney was sharp and aggressive and presidential. Barack Obama spent half the evening looking down and the other half looking for the teleprompter that was not there. His facial expressions ranged from a bewildered look, reminiscent of a deer in headlights, to angry glares and condescending sneers -- none of which made him look particularly presidential.

My second favorite part of the debate was when Obama made constant reference to what he said was a $5 trillion tax cut proposed by Romney. Romney kept insisting that he had no such proposal on the table. He finally chastised Obama by saying -- paraphrasing here -- it's like when my kids were 10 or 12. They believed that if they kept telling the same lie over and over and over that it would somehow become the truth.

My favorite part of the debate was when Romney acknowledged that the best way to ensure good schools was to hire excellent teachers and let them do the jobs they were hired to do without interference from the federal government. If you thought No Child Left Behind was a bad idea, you should take a look at Race to the Top.

I don't know if the debate will have an impact on the election or not. I don't know how many undecided voters were watching and how many were watching recorded reruns of Honey Boo Boo. I just don't know.

I do know that if you ask the question of Americans the same question Ronald Reagan asked 32 years ago that most, will answer no. That is unless they think having a 64 percent increase in food stamps, an extra $5 trillion in national debt, an increase in unemployment and a 10 percent decrease in annual income and the price of gas doubling are helping make them better off.

We are four weeks away. Wake up America. Pay attention. The nation you save may be your own.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.